#3: A Rabbi and A Physicist... (Dr. Lawrence Rudnick & Rabbi Sim Glaser)

In this episode of TEMPLE TALKS, A Rabbi and a Physicist Walk Into a Bar…Mitzvah! The Kaballah-loving Rabbi in this case is Rabbi Glaser, and the physicist is Dr. Lawrence A. Rudnick, Temple Israel congregant and Professor Emeritus of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Minnesota. In the first of a series of talks, our Rabbi and Physicist engage with the following question: are human beings special? Please subscribe to TEMPLE TALKS and review the show. Comments and questions can be directed to TMoss@TempleIsrael.com. Talk with us!
An edited excerpt from this week’s Temple Talks follows below.

Rabbi Glaser

When you were just talking about different kinds of sound that we can’t understand, or can’t hear but others animals can, that always piques an interest in me. It is similar with colors right, infrared and so on. And you know as I’ve studied Kabbalah the last fifteen years, it seems that the mystics, the Kabbalists, seem to be interested in dimensions other than those which are perceived. Third, and fourth, and even fifth dimensions of what they call reality. And these Kabbalists are interested—maybe like people looking for extraterrestrials or otherworldly creatures or forces—in knowing if there’s something beyond what we experience in this physical world. And that’s where they start moving into the realm of the divine. They philosophize about a greater being, and I say greater only in the sense of a being that isn’t entirely manifest in our day-to-day life. They say that’s our problem, not the problem of the divine. It’s our inability to seek.

Dr. Rudnick

Astronomers are extremely sensitive to these limitations because in almost every kind of parameter that you could think of, we know that we are limited. We talked about being limited in terms of sound, that if the pitch is to high or too low we can’t detect it. And then you brought up light, where if the frequency is too high its ultraviolet or x-ray or gamma rays, and if it’s too low we call it infrared, or radio, or millimeter waves. So what we do is we recognize that there are things way beyond our senses and we build instruments to detect them. If things are too fast we can’t detect them. If they’re too slow, we can’t see them changing.

We are extremely sensitive to these limitations, but one big limitation really is the things we can’t even conceive of: the unknown unknowns. The questions that we don’t even know to ask.

And we do talk about dimensions we can’t directly interact with. That’s sort of an ongoing quest for us—to go beyond the physical limitations that we have, but also to go beyond the conceptual limitations that we have. We try to ask is there more.

Rabbi Glaser

I think there’s an interesting Kabbalistic analog in that when you look at the Sephirotic system. The sephirot emanate from the divine and become increasingly understandable, or knowable, or conceivable by humanity. So by the time they get down to our human world, these things are garbed in ways that human beings can understand it. Like the idea of compassion is nothing, unless someone is being compassionate. And there’s no way you could identify compassion outside of a person being compassionate.

When you talk about prisms of light, some people talk about God—or whatever you want to call the Source of all being—as being an infinite and unseeable light, but like a prism, that non-visible light is broken into elements that are in fact perceivable by human beings.

Similarly, God’s infinite power cannot be conceived by human beings because it is too powerful and too all-encompassing. But broken down into component parts that exist within the human structure and huma life, we start seeing. We get hints as to what that divine energy might be.

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